Advice for kicking off an online community for engagement?

9 Feb 2012 - 10:46am
9155 reads

Hi all, I'm looking for advice on how to engage a small group of people to be active (asking questions and answering others') in an online community of people going through a similar experience (in this case, pregnancy). 

Suggestions on how to get these groups off the ground and interacting with one another as much as possible and as quickly as possible... ie: are there good ways to create rapport within an online group? What's the best role for the facilitator to play? (is it different at the very beginning than later on?). Do you have other suggestions, resources, or places to go for inspiration? 
As part of a project within an Obstetrics practice, we're creating two small (20 person) online communities to help us explore how group interactions in an online space could supplement/replace some of the prenatal care people are receiving in the clinic. This is the second phase of our contextual design research (first phase was more typical observation, contextual interviews, co-creation sessions...) and want to quickly get them humming in a way that we can quickly explore a variety of new ways of using them in healthcare, looking at the bounds of what they're good for and what they're not... Essentially, we're looking at these groups not so much as prototypes of this type of community, but playgrounds to co-create with these groups. 
We're inviting a groups of 15-20 women at similar stages of pregnancy (who are all receiving care from the same provider) to be a part of an online community (with capabilities for discussions, chat, photos, etc). Invited members will all start in the group at the same time. Each group will be facilitated by one of their providers and one of their nurses. We want to explore different ways that the group might be able to use this community to augment the care they are getting in the clinic. (by asking questions, providing advice, providing emotional support, sharing stories...)  There is a model of group care ( already underway at the clinic, and from contextual research we've done we believe that we might be able to provide some of the benefits of this model through an online interaction.
We know that many online communities rely on large numbers of people, assuming that a few will post and the others will just read (anthrodesign of course isn't like that at all ;-) ... but we want to try and do this with a small number of people in each group by finding ways to get them all involved instead of relying on a few to carry the group. (Granted, in any community, some people will be more active than others, but we're hoping to keep it a little more balanced). In a sense, we hope to create little communities that happens to be online (where hopefully even the shy people will join in) rather than creating an online group that people happen to wander into. We also want to get people comfortable and contributing (if they're going to) on a relatively short time frame. 
Thank you!
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